Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Key Facts About The Prince George’s County School Cell Tower Deal

Key Facts About The Prince George’s County School Cell Tower Deal

NEW 11/2017: Newly Proposed PG Delegation Bill PG 417-18 on Cell Towers ensures that a public hearing will be held at the school. A new PG zoning requirement calls for a public hearing but does NOT call for that meeting to be at the school. Therefore PG 417-18 is very important! 
Greenbelt: The City of Greenbelt voted to oppose cell towers on school grounds in 2014. The also wrote to the FCC to develop safety standards that protect the public. Read the letter to the FCC. Read the Press release “Maryland City of Greenbelt Votes Unanimously to Alert Citizens to the Health Risks of Cell Phone/Wireless Radiation and to Oppose Cell Towers on School Grounds”

73 Schools Are Cell Tower Sites:
Seventy-three Prince George’s County Schools are now available as cell tower sites per a 2010  Board of Education decision. Several towers are in the process of permitting and construction. Most parents and residents are unaware. 
1. The cell tower agreement is a no-bid deal. A Virginia-based company (not minority-owned), Milestone Communications, is the only company that has a leasing deal for towers with Prince George’s County Schools. This agreement was made without bids or RFPs for the best price. There was no competition considered. 
2. The PGCPS deal allows three cell towers on each school. The master leasing agreement with Milestone allows each school site to have up to three cell towers per school. That makes 219 such towers allowed.
3. The Board of Education voted on the cell tower policy with zero public comment and zero discussion on the issue. The November 11, 2010 vote to approve the cell tower deal  with Milestone took seconds. Watch the vote here. Most parents and neighbors did not find out about this policy until 2014.
4. The Board of Education never saw the master leasing agreement when they voted prove it. All they saw was a one page "Board Action Summary." Read the only document made public to the Board when they voted to approve the   Telecommunications Leasing Master Agreement between Prince George's County Board of Education and Milestone Communications Management III, Inc. by clicking here. 
5. The leasing agreement was never available online for the public to view. The leasing agreement was only made available via a public information request by a parent in the Maryland Coalition to Stop Cell Towers at Schools in 2014.  How could the public comment when there was no lease to look at? Read it here. See all key documents here. 
6. The policy actually went though Multiple revisions over the years outside of the publics view.  Each change removed transparency. However all this changes were made outside the publics view.   The public never knew about all of this.It started out policy 0800 then named Board Policy 0123 and then was amended and renumbered as Board policy.  3600 See the policy revised on September 2013, the first reader where it was updated, the way it was renumbered and retitled, How can the public know what is going on with all these back door changes and confusing process? 
7. In response to this cell tower policy the  Prince George’s County Delegation Introduced a Bill to PROHIBIT cell towers on School grounds in February 11, 201. The Bill- Prince George’s County – Wireless Telecommunications Towers – Prohibition 3 on Public School Property   was for the “purpose of prohibiting the siting of wireless telecommunications towers on certain public school property in Prince George’s County.” Read it here As we understand it, this Bill helped pull elementary schools out of the mix as previously every single PGCPS school was slated to be cell tower site. After this Bill, only middle and HighSchools got to be on the contract. So although the Bill did not pass, it made a difference for our kids and impacted the process. 
8. Later in 2013 another Bill was introduced in 2013 to stop the towers on school grounds. The Bill was called PG 406-15 - Prince George's County – School Property – Development of Policy forNoneducational Use. The Board opposed this Bill which called for the development of policy to address "noneducational" uses of schools. Read the letter sent by the Board of education stating they were against this bill. 
9. All PGCPS middle and high schools are on the list as available cell towers. Milestone has the rights to shop all of these school sites for carriers to lease. See the Milestone webpage where you can see these available sites by clicking here. 
10. The money goes into the PGCPS General Fund- not to the individual schools that have the cell tower A February 2014 Audit Report by the Dept of Legislative Services shows that PGCPS was not able to provide key documentation in areas including overtime pay, human resources, bus transportation, and certain contracts worth millions of dollars. We have no idea where the money goes. 
11. The money iminimal. Dr. Maxwell wrote in a letter that the cell tower deal “was not simply about money. In the grand scheme of things the fees . . . are quite small.”    Read the 2014 Sept 24 Maxwell Letter. Dr. Maxwell later wrote me that the monetary amounts were as follows: PGCPS receives 40% of the revenue from leases.Lease revenue – $12,000 per year, with 3% escalator per year. Lease terms: First term 5 years with up to five (5) five-year extensions. Plus there is a one-time Access Fee paid for First Carrier of $25,000. This means $25,000 when the tower first goes up. With a 30 year lease, that is the equivalent of 833 dollars more per year or 69 dollars a month.
12. The community is not a part of the decision making process. Prince George’s County schools do not hold school community meetings as they do in Montgomery County to gauge community opinion. Instead meetings are help to"brief" the community on he plan. Even if the community does not want it, they have no recourse. In fact, emails between Milestone and PG school officials reveal that meetings are specifically requested by Milestone Communications to be held off school grounds in a “neutral location”. (Go to the email chain on page 29.) Parents might be curious as to why these meetings are not held at PGCPS schools? Most PGCPS cell tower off-site “community” meetings have had only a handful of people attend. Some meetings had just one resident attend, according to Milestone’s letter to me.
13. Cell towers are ugly and lower property values. Research shows a drop of up to 20% in home values in the vicinity of the tower. Will people want to move to a county peppered with school cell towers?
14. Cell towers violate Prince George’s County zoning code: The Special Exception Process is 100% circumvented in Prince George’s County. According to Sec. 27-445.04 of the Prince George’s County Code, these cell towers should go through the special exception process because these cell towers will need more than 4 maintenance visits a year. However, Park and Planning says the county’s code enforcement agents would be required to address the matter after installation. Despite meeting criteria for a special exception, this process is being bypassed.
15. Cell towers could bring lots of strangers to public school playgrounds during school hours. Maintenance workers (third-party contractors) are allowed 24/7 access to the compound and can drive in with trucks at any time. Milestone states they are fingerprinted but we have been given no information as to if these people sign in and our calls to schools results in hearing that the school employees are unaware of any process being followed. Maintenance is about twice a month per carrier — meaning at least 10 visits a month
16. Cell towers pose a number of health and security risks. The US Labor Department and OSHA are calling for better protections for cell tower workers, citing deaths from falls, collapsing towers, and falling objects near cell towers. Cell towers have caught on fire and collapsed, and cell tower compounds are considered hazmat areas due to the lead acid batteries and diesel fuel on the site.
17. Wireless cell towers emit constant non-stop RF radiation which the World Health Organization classifies as a Group 2B possible human carcinogen based on potential links to brain cancer. Research also points to possible genetic damage, sleep issues, headaches and increased immune issues among people living in the vicinity of a cell tower. Read research here. 
18. The LA School District has  banned cell towers on school grounds and uses a radiation limit 10, 000 less than the  FCC. They set radiation levels at 10,000 less than our government’s 18- year-old and outdated FCC standards in order to “protect children”.
19. Cell towers are often out of compliance with FCC radiation regulations. A recent Wall Street Journal  investigation found that many cell antennas emit radiation far higher than FCC regulations. “It’s like having a speed limit and no police,” said Marvin Wessel, an engineer audited thousands of sites and found one in 10 out of compliance.  
20. Cell tower placement is an environmental justice issue. Cell towers are disproportionately placed in neighborhoods with higher numbers of minorities and students needing free and reduced meals. In Montgomery County, for example, cell towers are overwhelmingly placed in schools with higher numbers of minorities, and high ESOL and Free lunch rates. Watch this video of Wootton High School (a school in an affluent MCPS neighborhood) where parents gathered  to stop a proposed cell tower in its tracks. The tower proposal was removed within 24 hours of the meeting. Has this ever happened in a PGCPS School? No.
21. Other districts are taking down cell towers, halting cell tower installations and legislating setbacks from schools and homes. In California’s Alameda Unified School District  the school board called to remove its cell phone towers at two schools  last year. The Spokane Washington City Council put a moratorium on cell towers. In DeKalb County Georgia contracts for all 9 of the schools originally slated for T Mobile cell towers were dropped. In Santa Fe, New Mexico the board voted unanimously to oppose school cell tower construction. This May, Walnut California’s City Council voted to increase setbacks to 1500 feet from schools and homes after parents and neighbors got organized. These are only a few examples of what is happening around the country.
22. Firefighters do not want cell towers on their stations. The International Association of Firefighters Division of Occupational Health and Safety and Medicine is officially opposed to cell towers on their stations. Los Angeles Fire Captain Dave Gillotte stated the following when cell towers were slated to go on his station this spring, As firefighters and paramedics, we live in these firehouses. What effect will these towers have on us? What are the risks to our neighbors? It’s a no-brainer that LA County should at least have done a proper study before putting 200-foot high-power microwave antennas on top of our heads.” The firefighters were successful in stopping these towers and the LA supervisors stopped construction because of their advocacy. Watch videos of firefighters testifying against cell towers here. 
23. The Cell Tower development process has lacked transparency. In November 2014, the Prince George’s Telecommunications Transmission Facility Coordinating Committee was found to be in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act by the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board. They corrected most (not all) of these issues. It is hard for parents to know what was going on when there were no meeting notices, no meeting location, no agendas, and no minutes available for so long. The Board of Education was also cited for an Open Meetings Violation in April after they did not give citizens meeting minutes when requested them in person at their office.

24. In November of 2010 Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs was the President of the PG Board of Education. In July of 2010 her campaign received a $500 donation from Milestone Communications. That was 4 months before the PG BOE voted on the no bid/no RFP Milestone Communications contract. Did they have a meeting? When and how was this cell tower deal hatched?